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The return of Young-gu

Posted December. 20, 2010 11:15,   


In the late 1980s, many Koreans mimicked the act of then famous comedian Shim Hyung-rae. Whenever Young-gu, the funny character Shim portrayed, opened and closed a door after shouting, “There’s no Young-gu,” viewers howled in laughter. He reinvented a character that had appeared in the popular TV drama “The Journey.” The sentence “There is no Young-gu” was on everybody’s lips as was the phrase "Sorry for being ugly" by the late comedian Lee Ju-il.

Young-gu will be revived some 20 years later through Shim’s new movie, “The Last Godfather,” by putting the character against the backdrop of New York in the 1950s. Set for release on Dec. 30, the film is about the unknown son of a legendary Mafia boss, Young-gu, and will show the essence of slapstick comedy like “Mr. Bean” did. Veteran Hollywood actor Harvey Keitel, who has starred in “Reservoir Dogs” and “Taxi Driver,” will play the godfather and Shim, 52, will play Young-gu in the movie.

Shim has received harsh treatment at the hands of critics and the public. From the time he began making the children’s film “Young-gu and Tangchilyi,” the Korean film industry has considered him an outsider. Criticism of Shim peaked when the film “D-War,” the most expensive Korean movie in history, was released in 2007. Film critics blasted the movie for having a poor script despite magnificent computer-generated images. Worse, left-leaning figures in Korea said the movie lacked completeness and employed a marketing strategy to arouse patriotism. They apparently attacked Shim since his movie and the leftist film “Splendid Vacation” opened simultaneously. “D-War,” however, attracted eight million Korean moviegoers.

Saying he earned money by being “hit” in a comedy, Shim dreams of making quality movies to be exported to Hollywood. In 1999, he was selected “New Intellectual No. 1,” but was treated as a failure after his big-budget monster movie “Yonggary” bombed at the box office. The trailer of his new movie has elicited laughter from those who remember his character Young-gu in the 1980s. Whether “The Last Godfather” will have the same effect on the younger generation of Korean and American moviegoers remains unknown, but Shim’s endless fighting spirit deserves praise.

Editorial Writer Chung Sung-hee (shchung@donga.com)